Friday, October 21, 2016

Book Fair Questions Answered! An interview with Greenlight Bookstore

For many years now, I've been working with Greenlight Bookstore on my book fairs and it's been a rewarding partnership. I love collaborating with them on book fair lists and I love supporting a local independent store. More of that, please! 

I find that working with an independent store means I get a lot of personal feedback and am able to create a unique book fair that truly reflects the interests and needs of my community. It also means that I've gotten to know Greenlight very well over the years and I thought it would be fun to hear from Hannah, the Offsite Sales and School Partnerships Manager, about book fairs. I put together a list of questions and she, very kindly, obliged. Thank you Hannah!

How does your store go about choosing the right books for each book fair? How do you select?

The process is different for every school we work with--which makes book fairs both a lot of fun and a unique challenge! Some schools have done a lot of fairs in the past and have a clear idea of what their students and families will want, and some have less experience and ask for more input from us. Often, schools will give us general guidelines--which themes they do (or don't) want, what price points they're looking for, titles or authors that their students love--and we'll build the specific list of titles from there. For schools with less information on past fairs, I base my choices on a combination of what's sold well at similar schools, what's popular in our store, and the titles (new and classic) that I love most.

What has a librarian done for a book fair that worked so well that you wish everyone would do it?

The librarians who run the most successful book fairs are, I think, the ones who really pay close attention to what their students get excited about, which of course changes from year to year and even week to week. I love it when I read through a list of requests and find titles that I've never even heard of; more often than not those books show up because a librarian has picked up on enthusiasm directly from their students, and those books almost always end up selling well at the fair. As much as possible, it's so helpful to let us know what your students love, even when it's an older or offbeat title that we might not have sold before.

What has a librarian done for a book fair that totally tanked (it happens to best of ideas!) that you wish no one would ever do?

I think the biggest mistake that librarians make is wishful thinking about which books will sell well. Sometimes I'll see librarians asking for the same titles year after year, even when no one has bought them in the past. It's important, I think, to find a balance between the books you want your students to read and the books they actually will read. It's great to challenge your students by providing books that they might not have thought of on their own, but also helpful to recognize when a particular book just seems unlikely to be a hit with students.

What’s the best thing a librarian can do to prepare his or her students and families for book fair?

Aside from the basics of publicizing the fair and talking with students about the kinds of books that will be available, I think it's really helpful to encourage families to take advantage of online ordering options. When families buy books online before a Greenlight fair, it ensures that they get the books they want and then on the day of the fair, all they have to do is pick them up at the school without worrying about payment. Nothing can replace browsing in person, but publicizing online ordering helps include families who might not otherwise be likely to participate in the fair and also cuts down on the day-of work for the volunteers or school staff who are coordinating the fair.

Give us your best book fair piece of advice!

To summarize: know your students! Know what they like and don't like, and what kinds of literary challenges they'll respond well to. Know who might forget to give a flyer to their parents or which families might appreciate a reminder about online ordering. It's our job as a bookstore to know titles and authors inside out, but because every school is so different, a librarian's knowledge of students, families, and school culture is the key piece to putting together a successful book fair.

-Karen, Williamsburg Northside School

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